A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: apocalyptic weather, gardening, mentors, making time to write, giving “cancelled” writers a path to redemption and reconciliation, and much more. Enjoy.
We were so lucky to have some rain yesterday, first a scattering in the early afternoon, which returned with increased seriousness around 530 pm, while I was getting a hair cut. I could see the rain in the long mirror reflecting the street behind me. It was falling on the cobblestones and between the rails of the tram tracks and my annoyance at the hair cutter who kept me waiting 45 minutes dissolved there.
Before midnight it rained again, and into the small hours. This morning is fresh and in the 70s — absolutely lovely. It is a relief to forget about the apocalypse for an hour or two.
Which puts me in mind of a poem! Many poems, actually. But also a visual poem of mine that recently came out in Ballast, “My Darling,” which I mean with all my heart: [Click through to view]
the best of wivesSarah J Sloat, the best of wives is fresh air
is fresh air
We’re in the middle of summer and shattering records for heat, both in the water and on land. I am so glad I have a house in the mountains. I thought about Cassandra, who made predictions that no one believed. How does Cassandra feel when predictions come true?
It’s not a new subject for me, but this morning, I returned to it, as I created some lines that are building into a coherent poem. Here’s a taste:Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra in the Mountains
I cannot save you from the sea,
but I understand how it has bewitched
you, leading you on with false
hopes, thinking maybe you will be spared,
one of the lucky ones to emerge
with your habitat sustained
while others bleach and burn.
The collection begins with poems that convey the transience of life and the inevitability of death. A Scene Outside the Window of a Country Church is typical. The preciousness of existence is conveyed through the beauty of the natural images: ‘Shocks of green/ flutter/ and shimmer-’, ‘dewy butterfly wings’, ‘emerald and jade’. The vibrancy of the scene outside penetrates the sanctity of the church, yet so does the presence of something ominous: the sky is described as a ‘mourning’ sky and the horizon is ‘grey’.Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Blind Turns in the Kitchen Sink’ by David Estringel
The raw, unblemishedRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 55
landscape claws the back of your eyes. Even
the air is like parchment, brittle, crumbles in
your hands, turning white. This place asks you
if you can be honest in the presence of so much
beauty. It asks about your truth. The perimeter
of your conviction. What is the difference
between life and cloud? What is the distance
between death and rain?
I liked last year’s conference so much that I went again this year, seeing many people I’ve met before. When I set off at 5.30 on Saturday morning for Bristol, I saw a snail on the car roof – an omen of weather to come. After a useful day of workshops I slept in my tent while a storm raged, waking in a puddle, finding enough dry space to battle on. On Sunday I went to more workshops that showed me how much I need to improve my close reading. I read at the launch of “51 and a half games and ideas for writers with example responses”.Tim Love, Flash Fiction Festival, 2023
When I pick the beetroot, I think of my Dad.
When I pick the green beans, I think of my Dad.
I will think of my Mam when I cook them,
the conversation we could have had about
how long I sautéed the chopped stems
of the beet leaves, before adding the leaves,
how much garlic I added, and how the beansLynne Rees, Poem ~ Harvest
didn’t need any salt. So tender. So fresh.
And it takes friends who’ve heard your self-doubt, excuses, attempts to change the subject. If writing is like gardening, if the garden is a place for working it all out, for being in a place without words, or naming things, a place you’ve made, planting tomatoes outside and hoping there won’t be blight, risking seedlings to slugs, wondering why this year there are so many opium poppies, friends offer a view of hills, all the different greys and a dawn sky, reminding you that after midnight in the dark woods you heard a nightingale three nights running, and then the wind shook everything up.Jackie Wills, Friends and a view of hills
People suffer and throw themselves
into the Seine. The buildings have scars
which grow lighter like our skins.
Shop women roll their cat eyes jealously,
hearing we’re American.
But what provocateurs they’d be,Jill Pearlman, How to Break the Ice in Paris
their loving presentation of breast
set like cake batter inside a bodice,
the body as curse or chalice.
So frank, so chalice the flesh in Paris.
My weird summer virus coincides, weirdly, with a huge heat wave—temps of 90 (and humidity levels at 30) meant an almost desert-like feeling to Seattle in the last couple of days. We were watering the hummingbirds, two bird baths and fountains, our poor flowers and baby trees – and ourselves. We have air conditioning, but it struggles to catch up with temps over 80. A common Seattleite’s summer retreat to a cooler area, Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, had to close today because a mountain lion went to the beach to cool down!
On my sick days, I had a chance to catch up on movies—and I watched Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (which was cute, and very true to the book, except for I remember the mother worked in the book?) and Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, which felt like a mashup of many of my own poetic obsessions—apocalypse, the Cold War era’s paranoia, mistrust of the government, aliens, nuclear testing anxiety, quarantine and its reverberations, and of course, death, Shakespeare, and witches. Some of my friends really did not like this movie, which highlights artificiality in a sort of odd black and white narrated Rod Serling juxtaposed with a tableau of the American West in color and admittedly does not have a linear plot. But I loved it—and more than that, it was the first movie I’ve seen that made me want to make a movie. (I have a friend with a fancy Ivy League degree in film and I suddenly had the urge to ask to borrow all her books from the program.) This film almost felt like a visual poem—a pastiche of Wasteland-like fragments. The other thing I noticed was influences from my generation—from Futurama episodes (I recommend watching “The Series Has Landed” and “Roswell That Ends Well” for shot-to-shot comparisons) and MST3K fifties apocalypse anxiety films. Wes is four years older than me, so we probably watched and read a lot of the same things growing up. I loved Moonlight Kingdom, but I strongly identified with this film—it’s practically set in my childhood home of Oak Ridge with its massive government buildings and kooky genius children in nearby schools, called “Atomic City.”Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Birthdays, Heatwaves, and Thoughts on Asteroid City and the Poetry World
These are the ghosts of cities we loved
and lived in: perfect, scaled-down houses,
rooms now vined with glossy overgrowth.
Landmarks loosened from the horizon bond
closer to their ruined shadows. Which bird, which god,
delivers these triumphs of otherworldly scale?
The universe: nothing but a battered suitcase, its insides
carpeted with remembered skies and glowing
mycelia. Maps of the world, speckled with fruiting spores.Luisa A. Igloria, Terminal
My second full-length poetry collection is finally available. Whew! It took a good bit of patience, some frustration, and considerable persistence to get here, but I believed that this was a manuscript worth plugging away on. And thank you to Highland Park Poetry and to judge Cynthia Gallaher for choosing RQH as a prizewinner.
Persistence doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, we tend to focus on how important it is to keep on keeping on. However, I’m not sure I wholly believe in the process of sticking-to-it no matter what; there are times when you do need to let go of an unattainable goal or the pursuit of a not-terrific idea, and just–well, fail. I have let go of quite a few goals, plans, and previous manuscripts when I honestly evaluated my feelings about them and their possibilities for becoming realized. It’s okay to fail. You learn more from failure than from success. I have gained quite an education that way myself.
But I wanted this book to get into print. I like the poems in it. I like the things I learned as I played with meter and form and (mostly slant) rhyme. It was fun to find a range of topics that managed, one way or another, to work together. Mostly, I wanted an audience, to find out whether readers find it thought-provoking or entertaining or interesting. Also, I was starting to sense that it was getting in the way of my next manuscript. Yes, of course I have the next manuscript…Ann E. Michael, Aloft at last
Once a week I would knock on the door of Madeline’s office with a copy of my typed-out poem. Madeline would invite me in, her red ballpoint in hand. Each week I fervently hoped that she wouldn’t find a word to circle or a phrase to underline. I prayed for a mistake-free poem. One day she explained to me that “the poem was only as good as the weakest link in the chain.” Once the weak chink was excised from the work, a new issue would take its place. In other words, my wish was impossible.
But it didn’t matter! Through Madeline’s teaching I was first introduced to the poetry of Carolyn Forche, Sharon Olds, and Richard Hugo. Through Madeline I learned the art of revision—whether I wanted to learn it or not. Without that tough and (at the time) tedious lesson, I never could have become a published poet.
And as tough as Madeline was with me, she was also kind. For our last class together she invited me to her home for lunch; the first and only time this happened to me as an undergraduate. After the meal, we took my poems and laid them out underneath the dining room table. Here was my teacher on her hands and knees peering at my mess of a manuscript.
I think this was the first time I ever saw anyone care about my work, anyone take it seriously. Underneath her table! Thank you, Madeline.
This would have been enough but she also came to my small graduation party at my group house. She modeled for me what a professor, a mentor, could be. When I moved to Seattle, several decades after graduation, Madeline had moved here, too. And at each of my book launches, Madeline was there, sitting in the front row.
For Madeline’s 90th birthday, I worked with her literary executrix, Anne McDuffie to try and make the event memorable. We had a broadside done of one of her poems by local poet and printmaker, Joe Green, and there was lots of cake. Anne had asked me to speak to Madeline’s time in Massachusetts and I was both honored and terrified. And once again, there was Madeline in the front row, watching.Susan Rich, Madeline DeFrees: a poet you really should know; I’m very thankful that I did…
What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I tend to write in many different styles, depending on the needs of the work, and my mood. One day, as a student, I went to Sharon Olds’s office, and she had my poems spread across her desk in a grid. She showed me how different styles I was practicing worked (or didn’t work) in relationship to one another. She told me where she thought my strengths were. I cherish that advice. It helps me remember the ways of writing that feel natural for me, so I can challenge myself by writing in other ways too. […]
David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Visual art has always been an inspiration. When I was in grad school in NY, I would take the subway to the Met and spend all day walking and observing, or sitting in front of a sculpture and free writing.
However, in the past decade, I’ve swung the other direction. My book banana [ ] was very research-based, and I loved coming home from work and reading history books, writing down any fact about the fruit that struck me. Right now, I’m writing poems that begin with cardiac studies that I perform at the hospital where I work. I’m very interested in what happens when we combine language that is supposedly “poetic” or “beautiful” with scientific or academic language that intends to serve a different purpose.12 or 20 (second series) questions with Paul Hlava Ceballos (rob mclennan)
This morning I saw a piece by one of those pedants who declare that writers must write every day. Or what? I thought, and of course the answer came immediately – if you don’t write at least something every day, you can’t call yourself a writer. […]
[I]t occurred to me that for the last couple of weeks I haven’t written a thing. A new, confusing, incredibly annoying laptop hasn’t helped. Why are the people who make these things seemingly so intent on ‘upgrading’ them? I suppose they get paid to think of new stuff a laptop can do but I suspect they forget that most of us just want something that’s simple to operate and quick to fathom out. In my case I’m far too thick to adapt to a new and complex system of icons and symbols. I even had to be showed where the on-off button was hiding… Mostly this has driven me away from technology to the point where I’ve hardly even used my phone, let alone the internet. Please don’t get me started on the vile idea of closing physical ticket offices at train stations. I have no interest whatsoever in buying a ticket online and downloading some App or other.
I’ve taken to transcribing old poems stored forgotten in some ethereal hole (like this site) back into longhand. I’ve been busy looking after hens, arranging for new middle white pigs to come at the beginning of August, watching Test cricket, working on bits and pieces on our smallholding. I’ve also read a fine book about the West Bromwich Albion championship-winning season of 1919-20, part of a novel that bored me so much I tried reading it from last chapter to first. (No improvement.) I also read about a protest march by London’s wig-makers in 1764 when, it seemed, wigs were going out of fashion and ‘wearing your own hair, if you have any’ was becoming so popular they faced ruin.
Writing poetry? Nah. Though I did dig a book from 20 years ago off the shelf, Rain On The River, by a Californian poet, Jim Dodge, which reminded me why I kept it. Take his poem The Banker, which begins: His smile is like a cold toilet seat. [Mind you, that’s sometimes preferable to a very warm toilet seat – Ed.] He shakes my hand as if he’s found it floating two weeks dead in a slough. These are poems of madness, fun and impulse but also of domesticity, of a family and working life full of ordinary, extraordinary, passionately respected events, of a life shaped by memories passed and recorded through generations where you strive to live what you’re given as well as you can. It’s one of those books where the writing feels relaxed almost to the point of diffidence but is anything but. I think from what I read about him, Dodge has concentrated on novels since Rain On The River was published, which would seem the novel’s gain and poetry’s loss. If you can pick up a copy somewhere, I’d heartily recommend it.Bob Mee, TOO BUSY TO WRITE? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.
Recently I realized I’ve begun marking the passing of time through words and growing things. When I wake up in the morning, that day of the week begins with my thinking about what I will be reading, writing, or editing. I have a schedule I follow because I like order (or routine) in my life and I have other people depending on me. And yet, the “order” the hours take are not strict and unbending. Sometimes, I’ll wait to edit an essay 3 or 4 days before it’s due to publish, thereby spending several hours doing that one thing, or I’ll begin writing down a story a week before the submission deadline. Sometimes, often actually, the urgency lights a fire under my ass, makes me accountable.
I keep a journal, of sorts, that includes gardening notes – when I planted seeds or bought a plant, what seeds took and what didn’t, dates of first blooms, dates I fed or cut something back, all sorts of notes. I can look back for several years and see what grew well and what bombed. Although I keep great notes, the garden itself is wild and somewhat overgrown. Plants that shouldn’t be together end up in the same pots or seeds get planted past the “plant by” dates because I don’t always follow traditional gardening advice. Freedom. I want to see what will happen and, more often than not, everything gets along just fine as long as I tend to watering and feeding. Accountability.
There is order, accountability, and freedom in my approach to writing. Order doesn’t have to be limiting at all when you mold it into what works for you. Something I’ve realized recently is that I’ve been fighting against the “write every day” blueprint because I thought that meant you sit down at a desk every day at a certain time and write at least 1000 words, no matter what. Google “write every day” and you’ll get a plethora of advice, workshops, and classes and yet, I believe you will be happier and more prolific when you design a practice that works for you as an individual.Charlotte Hamrick, Order, Accountability, Freedom
I exercised my way into a knee injury, and turned my writing life upside-down. That’s because I do a lot of dictating into my phone while walking. And now I’m not walking much. I also use stair-climbing as part of my thinking process. Doing chores in our house means stairs, and that’s some of my best thinking time. Though now I have more stair-thinking time, as I take it one step — good foot, bad foot — at a time.
I’m doing more of my thinking seated. Poetry and editing, however, seem to benefit from my staying seated. Fiction, not as much, because thinking of those plot twists requires me to be in motion.
Many of my poems were composed while walking and dictating, but yesterday I started a new practice of sitting poems. Even better if I’m sitting in an unusual places, such as a hot car while waiting for my husband to come out of the store, or on my deck while watering plants while sitting down. Instead of walking through it, sitting in a lovely field. Under a giant oak that tells me it loves me by dropping twigs on my head.Rachel Dacus, The Benefits of a Writing with a Knee Injury
Perhaps we should talk more about formulas and genres. A romance novel has a formula, as do most chart-topping songs. The content creators are usually adhering to some sort of formula based on what they are drawn to themselves or the styles of other creators. But then so does literature sometimes–even poetry. Insta poets are an obvious example. New Yorker poems are another. I would also say certain avant-schools of poetry also have a style you see again and again.
And ultimately, unless you are one of those rare exotic birds who doesn’t want to share your work, your work eventually becomes content, whether you read it at a reading, post it on FB, or submit it to a literary magazine. At the point where it meets a consumer, no matter how lofty its aims. So this at least makes me feel less weird about calling my art content.
But I will confess that doing so, at least in the past year or so, has made things like promotion and social media little more fun. I used to see them as separate, the art-making and the content creation, one the meat and potatoes, the other the flavorless broccoli, or the necessary evil of getting your work out there and enticing readers/viewers to look at the art. But much of what I do now I see holistically as part of the same process. I used to focus so much on the end product of book sales and gaining attention, but now I try to focus more on sharing things–whether it’s poems or images or video. The sharing is the point (though if it leads to book sales or website visits all the better.) But I’ve used the analogy before of the museum gift shop. Nice if you stop in, but absolutely not necessary. You can still enjoy the museum. This shift in thinking has taken a lot of pressure off me to see myself as failing if I don’t get enough likes or hits or sales in the shop. The content and the sharing/consuming is the point, not these other markers.Kristy Bowen, art and content | the dirty c-word
This week has been a wild, adrenalin and caffeine driven power march through my own edits on The Ghost Lake, galloping towards the deadline and swinging between elation and something like dread. But I am loving it. I am living a life that I began working towards ten years ago. Most days I’m up by 6.00am. I brew my coffee, I sit in the office space I created for myself, I listen to the jackdaws and the wood pigeons outside my office window and feel the sun creeping up behind the blinds to greet me. I can hear people getting in their cars and heading out to work and I feel utterly lucky to be able to do the thing that I do – writing, workshops, facilitating, mentoring. Because I’m an early riser I generally have a couple of hours of some sort of writing related activity (more on that later) in the bag before the day really begins. […]
Last week someone I know from the poetry community commented on one of my many morning pics (the taking of the morning pics is an act of accountability that gets me to my desk) and asked if I had any blogs about managing time as a freelancer and writer. I do…somewhere in the mists of time on my website… but I realised my process has changed so much over the years that it probably wouldn’t be relevant now.
Not everyone has money to sit on while they write. It’s one of the biggest blocks to people from non traditional backgrounds, from non affluent backgrounds, to getting into the arts. I’ve literally just been writing about this in my book so I’m a bit riled up about it. If you’re like me and from a working class background, without the nest egg, you will need to first accept this, accept that the aesthetic of the writer doing nothing but writing, of being an (unpaid) intern for a year building contacts and learning publishing skills or media skills while you plan your novel, fresh out of university…that’s not for you. That wasn’t for me. Though I hold onto the dream that at some point I will be successful enough to make writing my priority all the time, I am realistic enough to know that that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. But if you want it, and ‘it’ is different to all writers – you will find a way of working for it, kicking down the doors and making it happen.Wendy Pratt, Manage Your Freelance Time, Protect Your Writing Time
Fake Math by ryan fitzpatrick (Snare, 2007/ Model, 2022) in the copy I have, is reissued, with some of the 2007 edition culled, and the whole somewhat expanded with a section “Fake Math (20xx)” which written in the same spirit in the intervening 15 years.
It is extremely dense. The poems examine inside the urban over-stimulus of capitalism. It is not narrative but changing sentence to sentence like Lisa Robertson’s Boat (Coach House, 2022). Boat uses repetition of the idea of imaginary doors as portals to create touchstones between non-sequitur lists. fitzpatrick’s has no such device acting as a connector except a hyperglossia speed. In Robertson’s
Every angel is fucking the seven arts.
Each leaf had achieved its vastness.
A young woman is seated on a kitchen chair, black wings spread out as if drying.
It was August and the night was hot.
What we were proposing already exists.Lisa Robertson’s Boat
Whereas in Fake Math, fitzpatrick’s non sequitur leaps cluster physically tighter with “less breathing room” as they say, even stand alone phrases rather than “full sentences”.
Just because we screw doesn’t mean.ryan fitzpatrick’s Fake Math
Just because we assume swoosh pants.
Tradition and the tattooed cerebellum.
Sweat and swoon of commodity fetishism.
Totemic icon of commodity, and test drive.
Art is a dirty word.
A heart of purina.
In the sun on the beach.
Loving the V-8’s hum.
Bud of calm, blossom of hysteria.
Why gold confronts the linen as money.
The stress against capitalism and “jinglistic” noise (“ a heart of purina”) is rolled out frenetically as it was rolled into the head but with a twist. Academia and intellectual spin is in both poets, and a critical posture rather than self-reveal.
Yet, there’s beauty that stops you in your tack to fill your sails in each work, whether a leaf achieving its vastness or bud of calm, blossom of hysteria.Pearl Pirie, Fake Math
If you turn the stereo down low enough, you can hear the downtrodden aching for an antidote to oppression.
You can understand how hard it is to change horses mid-breath when the final breath is being choked from your body.
On the streets, I hear rumblings that the gun has taken a shot at writing poetry.
Perhaps it can teach bullets how to sing Ave Maria.Rich Ferguson, Season of Goodbyes
Sarah Bakewell writes books on people who have ideas, which does not on its face sound interesting, but they are. The books are less about the ideas per se than about the people, their influences, their time period, who they were, and who they influenced, and she tells it all in a wonderfully breezy way, making links and telling sidebar tales. I just love her work.
What I’m reading now is called Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope. It’s not what you might call riveting, but it’s been a good read. Humanism, in broad brush, is the idea that humans are capable of great moral acts, great artistic and technical achievements right here in this life on this Earth, and our lives should be dedicated to joy and radical understanding of all things. The idea that maybe was best captured in Rodney King’s plaintive, “Can’t we all get along?” and in the nonjudgmental “don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done unto you, cuz hey, if you’re into that other stuff, whatever.”
They might believe in a god or gods, these humanists, but they think worrying about the afterlife is not the best way to make living in this life the best it can be. Some were perhaps overly humanocentric, but many had made the connection between humans and, well, everything else. Humanists over time may have disagreed on some stuff, but essentially they all believe that human beings have the power to not be dickheads, and we should use that power.
All kinds of interesting people have thought this but their voices have been drowned out by louder voices of intolerance, greed, war, stupidity. She mentions, for example, J. M. Dent, who in 1916 in England founded the Everyman’s Library. Which put me in mind of those encyclopedias peddled door to door. It was with enormous sadness I chucked our family’s World Book…but only because I couldn’t see my friend Helen’s family’s slightly newer edition get chucked, and I still have it hoarding valuable shelf space. How many out of date encyclopedias does one household need? One, certainly.Marilyn McCabe, It’s gonna take a miracle; or, On Reading Bakewell’s Humanly Possible
I’ve been a fan of Gaia Holmes’s poetry since the publication of her third (and most recent) collection, Where the Road Runs Out, available from Comma Press here, which is among my very favourites of the last five years, if not all time. I’m pretty sure that it I bought on the recommendation of a typically warm-hearted review by John Foggin on his blog, here. I subsequently bought Gaia’s two earlier collections, which are both very good too. To paraphrase Orwell, all poets’ voices are unique, but some, like Gaia’s, are more unique than others’.
So I was really pleased to see today from Gaia’s blog that she’s uploaded a recording of her short story, ‘Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep’, to her Soundcloud page, here. It’s a terrific listen.
Even better is the fact that there are also loads of other atmospheric recordings, interspersed by music, which she made two/three years ago, of her (and other poets’) poems. I particularly like how, each time, Gaia paired one of her own lovely poems with somebody else’s to provide intriguing comparisons and contrasts.Matthew Paul, On Gaia Holmes
Peter Kenny and I have just wrapped up the last episode of Season 3 of Planet Poetry. Our guest was Richard Skinner, a fitting ‘finale’ as he led us through a fascinating poetry landscape in which OuLiPo, curtal sonnets, Caedmon and cutups all made an appearance. Then Peter and I had a chat and a beer in the potting shed. It’s been an exciting but exhausting season and we can hardly believe the poddy is still going strong! […]
Yep, last week I got some new photos done (in readiness for all that Booker Prize publicity – tee hee!) Nothing makes you feel more confident (in my humble opinion) than a professional photoshoot. I’ve rubbed along with selfies and ancient headshots for a number of years, but as Nick needed photos too we asked photographer Sarah Weal for help. I can only describe her as an absolute magician, making us look like we mean business, but still very much us. I couldn’t help myself but use one of the shots she took as a featured image to this post. Forgive me! Anyway, even if the book deals never happen, I will love looking at these photos in ten or twenty years’ time (fingers crossed) and say “look how amazing and young we were!”Robin Houghton, Round up: poems, podcast, garden, new photos…
David King is an award-winning experimental filmmaker, video and photo artist whose works have screened at the Australian National Museum, the Museum of Experimental Art in Mexico City, the BFI Theatre in London, the Nova Cinema in Melbourne, Affero Gallery in USA, and many international film and video festivals. He also curates screenings of experimental films and videos, with works collected from around the world. I’ve been delighted to have some of my videos in his curations.
Earlier this year, David contacted me asking if I’d like to write a poem for a new experimental video he was working on. David’s visual style is very different from mine, so I thought it would be really interesting to collaborate with him on this project. The subject of the video is loosely about the ocean, which is close to the hearts of both of us.
So I wrote a poem called King Tide to fit the video. David liked the text and we decided that I should record it, and make a matching sound design. I wanted to have the audio closely linked to the video, so I used a program, Photosounder, that converts images to audio to generate a base set of audio samples. This program encodes parameters in the image, such as intensity, colour and location, into pitch and duration of the audio, which can then be altered by a wide range of filtering, re-sampling and play-back options. I selected a single frame from each scene in the video and from each of them made a sample set of audio files. These were then taken into Logic Pro for further processing, such as re-timing, re-pitching, filtering, and looping. There are over 85 of these samples in the final mix. Each set of samples is introduced when the corresponding source scene begins in the video, although most of them re-appear, or continue on later in the video.Ian Gibbins, Topography of an Imaginary Ocean – video poetry collaboration with David King
The voice is mine, but it has been re-pitched, re-timed and had various filters applied in five layers. The little melody that appears under and around the vocal is also my voice, feeding a sample of the text into two separate vocoders.
Greg Thomas’s Border Blurs is a long overdue study of the impact and role of concrete poetry on the turn away from the Movement and towards the modernist legacy that stimulated an explosion of interesting British poetry 1950s, 60s and 70s. Thomas takes four of the most interesting of the poets involved as the spine of his narrative, two of them Scottish, two English: Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Dom Sylvester Houédard and Bob Cobbing. From this grouping it is clear that one of the blurred borders is the English/Scottish one, but the title refers just at much to the blurring of boundaries across genres that typifies the work of the four.
Thomas opens with an introduction and background chapter on the early development of concrete poetry, focusing on the Brazilian Noigandres group and the German Constructivists including Eugen Gomringer. These early concrete poets were, he argues, rejecting Dadaist chaos and looking to create work that was both experimental and supportive of the new post-WWII ideals of social order. This is an important counterpoint to the narrative arc of the British adoption of the genre, which can be traced as a move back towards Dadaist disruption. They were also influenced by developments in the area of information theory, which seemed to point towards a potential universal language; for the early exponents of concrete, this reinforced the idea that they could produce work that evaded the communicative limitations of language as it is and create work that could be understood by anyone, anywhere.Billy Mills, Border Blurs by Greg Thomas: A review
More advice, although tongue-in-cheek this time, is offered in “How to be a Proper Poet”, where amateurs have to sit at a reading
“far away from the proper poet pack, to hang over the side of the pew to give you any kind of view because’s there’s another proper poet in front of you with big hair that’s soooo debonair, extraordinaire, laissez-faire, spectaculaire, yeah big, big hair that blocks your field of vision, resulting in a gale-force, full-frontal eye flicking big-hair collision – barn – move on, move on – oh dea, leaving you to strain to see and hear and wonder at the thunder rumbling in your head that says just smile and clap and nod, poor sod, even though the punchlines drowned by those with seats saved at the front you can’t expect any different, you’re only a pretend poet after all, small, insignificant, slightly deaf, lacking the intellectual heft to rarefy your silly rhymes but next time, next time… so if you want to be a proper poet and show it at another gig, bring wine, wear scarves, wear heels, oh just wear a wig.”
Advice that finds the right balance between letting the rhymes run on yet the poem is still readable. The breathy rhythm catching the sense of a ideas floating out from the annoyance at having your view blocked, sitting further than back you’d planned so hearing is a strain, yet it retains its focus and never feels as if it’s drifted out of control or let the sounds drive the poem at the expense of sense.Emma Lee, “Devon Maid Walking” Clare Morris (Jawbone) – book review
A few years ago, a young poet was caught plagiarizing another poet’s work. They were not just called out and asked to be accountable, they were brutally made fun of, and to this day the occasional cruel reminder will be posted online about them as if they are not even a real person. You could tell it was never really about accountability to many of the people who went after them as, when this person accepted full responsibility for their transgression, and apologized personally to the poet whose work they had plagiarized from, no one cared. It wasn’t what they had really wanted. They wanted someone to make fun of. They wanted someone to take their anger out on. A person who is trying to be accountable is just spoiling the fun.
I reached out to this person, as had been done for me, and found that they were actually handling it much better than I had. I admired the tenacity, perseverance, grace and maturity with which someone so young was handling such a hard life event. We both had recently lost grandparents we were close with, and this person shared with me a poem that they had written for their grandparent, a beautiful poem, in their own beautiful and unique words, and I couldn’t help but feel so sad for this immensely talented young person who had made, and genuinely sought to atone for a mistake, and who told me “I will always keep writing, but just for me. I will probably never publish again.” It sounded like both a deeply personal choice and an inevitability of the current culture we live in, where redemption is not as desirable as cruelty.
I hope this person does one day publish again, but oh the hard difficult work we’d have to do to make such a thing a possibility. It was cruel enough to have gone through what they went through, but to have to go through it when they lost both of their grandparents, and to have to see the online vitriol, must have been even more painful. I know as I too lost a grandparent that I cared for on hospice during my “cancellation.” In my case, people used it as an opportunity to make fun of my “dead Grandma.” I want to think that these deeper stories would matter to those who often refuse to see the hurting and human face of the other, but for whatever reason we live in a time in which we just do not take the time to really see and hear each other in these deeper, more thoughtful ways.
Two other poets I know were “canceled” for personal conflicts with their ex-partners. They both permanently deleted their social media and quit publishing in addition to having much of their work removed from magazines. While I didn’t know them as well as I did the poet described earlier, I can only imagine their solitary journeys of exile were very similar and just as painful. The events surrounding their cancellations were very confusing, as personal conflicts tend to be, and it wasn’t obvious to me why it was a community concern.
Many of the same people were involved in their cancellation (if it isn’t obvious by now when I use the term “cancellation” it is used as a placeholder for what is more accurately bullying, scapegoating and dogpiling group behavior, which often leads to removal of a writer’s published work and/or a writer’s own decision to quit.) Once again it seemed obvious that accountability was not the goal, whatever that even would have been in such a personal situation, an apology and making amends to one’s ex I would imagine. Why that should translate into never being allowed to publish again eludes me. How sad that we have made a world for these young people in which redemption is derided and held in contempt, that they should feel they have to abandon their creative passions publicly rather than find pathways towards repair and reconciliation.James Diaz, It’s Time to Confront Conflict in the Poetry Community
The facebook algorithm is interesting. Since I began cross posting from this “cancer blog”, my feed suddenly started showing posts from people whose posts never show up – and all of them working through cancer or other serious illnesses. One the one hand, this is good because I feel less alone – and it is humbling in a healthy way (as in “yeah, so, you and everyone else…”) – but on the other hand, I think: wow – I am putting a lot of “ick” out there that may be showing up in people’s feeds who don’t need to see it.
But then, isn’t that true of everything we put out there. Sometimes I am astonished by the amount of social regulating that we do online: Don’t whine/winge, Don’t flaunt, Don’t crow, Don’t overshare, Don’t be needy, Don’t be prescriptive.
“It’s not a good look” is my least favorite comment now. The irony of people using this to censure and censor other people: appearance being the gateway to authentic… anything? I don’t know if the phrase is “not a good look”, but I think it is a window into the authentic concerns of person who typed those words. I have even seen this phrase used by journalists on major news outlets. (Do we even call them that now? “Media outlets”.)
I am thinking that life is too short to spend so much of it sneering. And yep, I see that I am sneering when I write about the sneering. Vicious circle of social interactions?
I saw something this morning that (really) made me smile. In a video clip about the light beer controversy in Nashville, a woman with a sequined American flag cowboy hat said something to the effect of who cares what other people do. I have to admit, I saw that hat and expected something completely different from that woman’s mouth. There is one of my prejudices laid bare for me to look at and work to let go of.Ren Powell, No More Number 2 Pencils
These plants springing from cracked pavement remind me of nature’s beautiful impulse for life. It restores my hope everywhere I find it. A handful of dry lentils taken from my cupboard, after a few days of soaking and draining, grow into cheery little sprouts I can use in salads, or feed to the chickens, or plant to grow into another generation of lentils. Seeds brought from Cyprus decades ago, shared by a friend, grow each year into giant hardy winter squash that keeps well until late winter –providing nourishing meals along with more seeds to save and share. Organic potatoes in my pantry wrinkle around tiny rosettes and from them, pale tendrils fragile with new life reach out in search of sunlight. I plant these eyes two or three times each season, from late March to late August, for fresh harvests of tender heirloom potatoes.
Life’s impulse can’t always survive what we humans are doing to this planet. As a direct result of human activity, the rate of species extinction is up to 10,000 times higher than the natural, historical rate. Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows ocean heating is equivalent to between three and six 1.5 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs per second. The UN says “climate change is out of control” and experts in Earth’s climate history are convinced this current decade of warming is more extreme than any time since the last ice age, about 125,000 years ago. It’s exhausting to think about, let alone act on, this spiraling disaster.
We need new stories that reawaken us to the lived wisdom of this planet’s First Peoples and lead us to the most ethical, scientifically grounded regenerative lifeways going forward. It helps when we recognize nature isn’t just what sprouts from cracked pavement. It isn’t confined to wild places we long to visit. We are nature, right down to the life processes of every cell. It helps when our new stories speak to our descendants. It helps when they answer our ancestors.Laura Grace Weldon, Honoring The Impulse To Thrive
If you’re a poet interested in line breaks, Valentine is the place to learn. Geter says of Valentine’s:
“It makes you trust yourself to the gap. Using everything you’ve ever known and forgotten, your mind and your imagination construct a bridge beneath you in real time. Suddenly, instead of “minding the gap,” you cross it. Studying her poems, I learned I could build a bridge between anything I loved—a poet, a song.”
And so when people are asking why they should read poetry, there, that. THAT.
Because we need to know how to bridge gaps. We need to get one thing talking to another through a gaping space, over a vastness, a chasm. Poetry can do this. We can.Shawna Lemay, Reading Jean Valentine with C.D. Wright
The poem describes walks I’d take with Violet every day, strapping her into the baby carrier and walking her around the historic German Village neighborhood where we lived the first year of her life. We’d walk through Schiller Park—yes, there is a bronze statue of the German poet Friedrich von Schiller there—and I’d point out things to her as we passed, as if I were a tour guide. That’s sort of what early parenthood felt like: being the tour guide for someone new to the world.
I wanted my daughter to love this place I brought her to, and I wanted the world to deserve her. This theme comes up in other poems of mine. “Porthole” from Goldenrod opens like this:Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “First Fall”
I was hoping the world would earn you,
but it rains and rains, too busy raining
to win you over.
I said in my last blog that I had started writing some different, fresher material. This has coincided with me going through all my poems and retiring poems that I didn’t feel were strong or good enough. Most of these poems were not in one of the two or three collections I have in progress, so it was easy to just pack them away in a Retired Poems folder. I might go back in the future and have a look at them to try and refresh or reuse some of the material and I know they’re still there if I want to use one or two, but it feels good to shift them out of sight.
I write a lot, see note about having three collections going, but many of the poems I write are good enough on their own, but don’t work well with others or my style has changed and I just don’t find them as appealing anymore. I then went through the collections and had a cull as well. I didn’t take out as many poems, but I changed the direction of one book, so I did need to take about a third away. It feels liberating to pare things down, to turn towards this new direction.
I have one of those collections with a publisher, but it’s been stalled for four years. In the meantime, I’ve rearranged and edited it over and over. It’s better, certainly, but it doesn’t make the wait feel any better. It’s just so frustrating, not knowing when or if it will happen. I don’t know if I’d be happier to have the collection the way it is, basically better, or to have it earlier, so I can move on. I sometimes feel like I’m still stuck in that place where the collection inhabits until it’s published as I keep revisiting the poems as I edit. It will be nice to be free of them, in a sense. Until then it’s a waiting game. A wading game as I move through the poems, just up to my ankles, occasionally plashing about.
My writing group is having its third annual retreat in two weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I have to drive, but besides that it will be just hanging out with people I like, writing, talking writing, eating and drinking, jumping in the hottub. It’s a blast and I always manage to write a poem or two while I’m there. The day after we come back, I’m off to work. So that will be the end of summer, a proper send off.Gerry Stewart, Rewriting Memories and Poetry Collections
The day before my birthday storm Poly (Beaufort 11) raged at speeds of 140 kms an hour: overhead lines and trees came down. The day after my birthday the Dutch government fell.
On my birthday I treated family to lunch. It was a joyous occasion. My uncle (born 17 years after my mother) turned 85 in June. He has only recently given up playing volleyball: too much for his shoulders. He’s taken up Jeu de Boules instead.
Here are two verses from an extended sequence titled Briefly a small brown eye.
Primary school demolished,
protestant church a community centre.
Our old house extended.
Forty years on no reason to visit
this town other than the old uncle.
Lunchtime, my aunt brings outFokkina McDonnell, The special table cloth
the special table cloth.
She has embroidered signatures,
some in Arabic, some in Cyrillic.
I’m looking for mine.
Those mornings when you realise there is no plan for the day; no thing. Yet knowing it will unwind like a clock’s chime. A pal to call upon; a decision of direction to be made. An adventure to be had that has not thought itself through yet. It’s early. A deep breath turns to the window lightening slowly; everything is slowly today. The mind curtains the breeze, the light as still as a deep breath turning a stretch into a swing of legs. The length of a smile about nothing, the thought of nothing to do. Out of the window a gaze is held in perpetuity, in deliberate incomprehension turning. Slowly. Breakfast spoons time in the milk of childhood. A determined plan to do nothing with determination. To reduce adventure to the unraveling of a day’s indecision.Jim Young, So much about nothing to do
After some time, the light
extends a long leg, a dark root,
bending toward me, a giant
curious about small things.
Lopsided butterflyPF Anderson, Fixed & Floating
slowly opens and closes
torn white wings.
on which side of my skin is sky
have all suns held inside a dawn that never arrivesGrant Hackett [no title]